Empowerment?

“This is the year of ‘Empowerment’,” our Executive Director declared encouragingly at last year’s off-site strategic planning session. “I want you all to feel empowered,” he went on, “to know that I have confidence in each and every one of you.”

My ears perked up. Honestly, I had been feeling a bit suffocated lately, a bit micro-managed. This empowerment stuff was just what I needed to hear.

“Not only do I believe in you, but I believe in your teams too. I want to make sure you have everything you need to succeed, and that includes the tools, the resources, and the support of the Executive Office in executing all of your individual departmental strategic plans. We have set ambitious goals for 2017 and the only way we are going to achieve those goals is if you all know that you have my unwavering support in you and your plans to increase sales and revenue for the Lottery.”

I could almost hear the epic soundtrack music rising triumphantly in the background as he spoke. I was inspired. There were at least a dozen half-baked ideas sitting in folders in my computer somewhere that had been frozen in a state of regulatory and bureaucratic limbo. But no more! This was the year of empowerment! This is the year they would finally be unleashed!

I believed it then. I really did. I’m a sucker for a well-delivered motivational speech. The first time I saw George C. Scott deliver that opening monologue in Patton, I wanted to quit school and join the army. But I was only in elementary school at the time so killing Nazis would have to wait. Besides, the war was long over.

Sometimes working for the Lottery feels like its own little war. It’s not a war against a country or a people, and there is next to no chance of death. But I am constantly battling between what I want to do and what I am allowed to do.

There is so much that I want to do. There have been so many “wouldn’t it be cool” moments that shoot up into the beautiful open blue skies of imagination only to inevitably come crashing down to the reality of what we are allowed to do. Or more accurately, what we’re not allowed to do.

Wouldn’t it be cool if we could sell our products online? Wouldn’t it be cool if someone could personalize their own scratch ticket and have it delivered to them, as easy as ordering on Amazon?

We can’t do any of those things.

Wouldn’t it be cool if the Lottery could throw a black-tie VIP-only party for its players at a swanky club with live music and cocktails?

Nope. Not gonna happen. Not at this Lottery, at least.

Wouldn’t it be cool if we could work with that innovative digital company that builds state-of-the-art websites?

“This is the year of ‘Empowerment’,” our Executive Director declared encouragingly at last year’s off-site strategic planning session. “I want you all to feel empowered,” he went on, “to know that I have confidence in each and every one of you.”

My ears perked up. Honestly, I had been feeling a bit suffocated lately, a bit micro-managed. This empowerment stuff was just what I needed to hear.

“Not only do I believe in you, but I believe in your teams too. I want to make sure you have everything you need to succeed, and that includes the tools, the resources, and the support of the Executive Office in executing all of your individual departmental strategic plans. We have set ambitious goals for 2017 and the only way we are going to achieve those goals is if you all know that you have my unwavering support in you and your plans to increase sales and revenue for the Lottery.”

I could almost hear the epic soundtrack music rising triumphantly in the background as he spoke. I was inspired. There were at least a dozen half-baked ideas sitting in folders in my computer somewhere that had been frozen in a state of regulatory and bureaucratic limbo. But no more! This was the year of empowerment! This is the year they would finally be unleashed!

I believed it then. I really did. I’m a sucker for a well-delivered motivational speech. The first time I saw George C. Scott deliver that opening monologue in Patton, I wanted to quit school and join the army. But I was only in elementary school at the time so killing Nazis would have to wait. Besides, the war was long over.

Sometimes working for the Lottery feels like its own little war. It’s not a war against a country or a people, and there is next to no chance of death. But I am constantly battling between what I want to do and what I am allowed to do.

There is so much that I want to do. There have been so many “wouldn’t it be cool” moments that shoot up into the beautiful open blue skies of imagination only to inevitably come crashing down to the reality of what we are allowed to do. Or more accurately, what we’re not allowed to do.

Wouldn’t it be cool if we could sell our products online? Wouldn’t it be cool if someone could personalize their own scratch ticket and have it delivered to them, as easy as ordering on Amazon?

We can’t do any of those things.

Wouldn’t it be cool if the Lottery could throw a black-tie VIP-only party for its players at a swanky club with live music and cocktails?

Nope. Not gonna happen. Not at this Lottery, at least.

Wouldn’t it be cool if we could work with that innovative digital company that builds state-of-the-art websites?

Denied.

But why? Because as a government agency operating under State Procurement Registration Title 86-GFY, the Lottery cannot directly contract with a vendor without first soliciting three bids from companies that must comply with a myriad of requirements and regulations that were written ten years ago by people in a state agency you never heard of who never worked for a lottery.

Their job seems to be to create new obstacles every year, which make it more and more difficult for the Lottery to modernize its operations in its effort to reach new players, grow the market, and generate more revenue for the state.

They are very good at their job.

They’re also the ones that raise the sales and revenue goals of the Lottery each year….

And that cool digital company that builds state of the art websites? Even though they may be the best at what they do and could literally help the Lottery increase its sales and profitability through the clear competitive advantage of its product—the firm can never meet all of those requirements and will never win the contract to redesign the Lottery’s website. The Lottery will end up working with a vendor that offers an inferior product but has figured out how to meet all of the state’s procurement regulations.

I work in the Marketing department. We’re lucky. We get to dream up all of the “Wouldn’t it be cool?” ideas. That’s fun. That’s the easy part. It’s the Legal department that is responsible for crushing our dreams. I know their job isn’t always fun for them, although sometimes deep down inside I wonder if they take some perverse pleasure in it, like that strange boy down the street your parents warned you about who used to burn insects with his magnifying glass.

(I’m kidding. My legal team members are the ones responsible for making sure the Lottery doesn’t get in trouble. I will always respect that.)

Last year’s “Empowerment” speech seems so long ago now. It’s like a distant memory that I occasionally look back upon and smile to myself dispassionately.

It was said with such sincerity. He meant it at the time. And I bought into it. I wanted to believe. I’m an idealist first and sometimes that naiveté sets me up for disappointment.

A lot has happened at the Lottery since that speech. My team has fought hard in the trenches. But what victories have we achieved? What medals can we pin upon our chests? The detritus of broken dreams lays strewn throughout the cubicles of the Marketing department. The folders full of half-baked ideas remain closed.

I’m a pragmatist though and have learned to persevere. “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good”, is the saying that I repeat to myself over and over again like a mantra.

And there has been some good. The advances in my Lottery are incremental, not systemic, but advances nonetheless. But do I feel empowered? Too frequently the answer to that question is no.

It’s not the Executive Director’s fault. He’s a good man. He cares. He has his wouldn’t it be cool moments himself—brilliant, creative ideas that never come to fruition due to circumstances outside of his control. The truth is sometimes I wish I could empower him, so that his motivational speeches could be more than just exercises in business school academia and actually deliver real world results; results that we can pin on our chests and say, “we did that”. Results are motivating. They improve morale. They instill the confidence to set your sights higher and dream bigger.

That is empowering.

Denied.

But why? Because as a government agency operating under State Procurement Registration Title 86-GFY, the Lottery cannot directly contract with a vendor without first soliciting three bids from companies that must comply with a myriad of requirements and regulations that were written ten years ago by people in a state agency you never heard of who never worked for a lottery.

Their job seems to be to create new obstacles every year, which make it more and more difficult for the Lottery to modernize its operations in its effort to reach new players, grow the market, and generate more revenue for the state.

They are very good at their job.

They’re also the ones that raise the sales and revenue goals of the Lottery each year….

And that cool digital company that builds state of the art websites? Even though they may be the best at what they do and could literally help the Lottery increase its sales and profitability through the clear competitive advantage of its product—the firm can never meet all of those requirements and will never win the contract to redesign the Lottery’s website. The Lottery will end up working with a vendor that offers an inferior product but has figured out how to meet all of the state’s procurement regulations.

I work in the Marketing department. We’re lucky. We get to dream up all of the “Wouldn’t it be cool?” ideas. That’s fun. That’s the easy part. It’s the Legal department that is responsible for crushing our dreams. I know their job isn’t always fun for them, although sometimes deep down inside I wonder if they take some perverse pleasure in it, like that strange boy down the street your parents warned you about who used to burn insects with his magnifying glass.

(I’m kidding. My legal team members are the ones responsible for making sure the Lottery doesn’t get in trouble. I will always respect that.)

Last year’s “Empowerment” speech seems so long ago now. It’s like a distant memory that I occasionally look back upon and smile to myself dispassionately.
It was said with such sincerity. He meant it at the time. And I bought into it. I wanted to believe. I’m an idealist first and sometimes that naiveté sets me up for disappointment.

A lot has happened at the Lottery since that speech. My team has fought hard in the trenches. But what victories have we achieved? What medals can we pin upon our chests? The detritus of broken dreams lays strewn throughout the cubicles of the Marketing department. The folders full of half-baked ideas remain closed.

I’m a pragmatist though and have learned to persevere. “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good”, is the saying that I repeat to myself over and over again like a mantra.

And there has been some good. The advances in my Lottery are incremental, not systemic, but advances nonetheless. But do I feel empowered? Too frequently the answer to that question is no.

It’s not the Executive Director’s fault. He’s a good man. He cares. He has his wouldn’t it be cool moments himself—brilliant, creative ideas that never come to fruition due to circumstances outside of his control. The truth is sometimes I wish I could empower him, so that his motivational speeches could be more than just exercises in business school academia and actually deliver real world results; results that we can pin on our chests and say, “we did that”. Results are motivating. They improve morale. They instill the confidence to set your sights higher and dream bigger.

That is empowering.

Feel free to leave a comment. If you would like to remain anonymous, leave a fake name and email. If you don’t want anything posted, but would like to send a message to the original author, leave a comment but begin the comment with the words “DO NOT POST.” I will honor that request.

Feel free to leave a comment. If you would like to remain anonymous, leave a fake name and email. If you don’t want anything posted, but would like to send a message to the original author, leave a comment but begin the comment with the words “DO NOT POST.” I will honor that request.

2017-03-01T17:31:10+00:00

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